I want to but I can’t…

You may be one of those individuals who has difficulty concentrating at work because you’re on your smartphone doing things that aren’t work or one of those who feels panicked or anxious when you don’t have your smartphone with you. It has definitely dawned on you that you spend far too much more time on your phone —checking Facebook, posting on Instagram, playing games, surfing the internet, chatting, watching Youtube — much more than you’d like to admit to. Sometimes, you turn down friends who entreat you to join them for real world interactions (but no one needs to know about those occasions). And you’re okay with that.

You may have realised that these activities aren’t helping to relieve your stress. In fact, you feel just a bit more unhappy than when you started. A 2013 PLoS study found that people’s perception of their own well-being declined with continued use of Facebook. Their sense of life satisfaction appeared to be reduced because they, like us, were likely to compare themselves to their peers while reading about the wonderful lives of their peers.  A 2014 PNAS study observed the phenomenon known as emotional contagion: individuals expressed more negative emotions when their Facebook feed was intentionally reduced in positive emotions (it should be noted however that others expressed more positive emotions when their feed was intentionally reduced in negative emotions).

So yes, you are somewhat attached to your smartphone. But you don’t feel that you’d be able to reduce the amount of time you spend on your smartphone. There are however a few things you could consider:

1. Try Cold Turkey
If you’re really motivated, you can install apps —Focus Lock, Pause, Freedom, Anti-Social, and Offtime — which prevent you from using specific applications for specified periods of time. Turning off notifications, muting conversations and airplane mode are other ways to help you focus on the task at hand. Putting your phone on “Do Not Disturb” or Selective Silence mode (after you list callers who can get through to you on this mode) is another way to get work done undisturbed.

2. Choose Your Own Adventure
Instead of letting social networking sites determine your mood, you could control your own destiny by liking posts which promote positive emotions and restricting your newsfeed to only supportive friends who have your interests at heart.

3. Come Out to Play
Distractions like Youtube videos and online games don’t provide effective stress relief. Physical activity and high quality relationships do. The better our aerobic fitness (what is aerobic fitness?), the lower the risk of depression. Not only is our mental resilience boosted by social connections, we also cope better with stress with the support of good friends and family. Group therapy doesn’t cost much. Rent bikes by the hour at Pasir Ris Park or play dodgeball at a trampoline park…

4. Go Green
Research shows that resting our eyes on something green in between working not only boosts our concentration but improves our mood, while moving to neighbourhoods with more access to green spaces has been associated with improved mental health. Scheduling a weekly nature outing with your friends and family would reduce your dependence on your smartphone, while providing effective stress relief. The Nature Society organises guided intertidal walks, as well as kayaking tours through the mangroves which are open to families with children 8 years of age and up…

It gets better with practice…and you can always seek professional help to kick the habit!

Bringing up baby

Undesirable behaviours sometimes exasperate the best of us. And we can respond with emotions rather than coolly and in the best interests of the child, which is why the experts advise us to “guide, not punish“, especially when it comes to dealing with young children.

We also live in a relatively more enlightened era…with much research to guide our thinking and behaviours. With that in mind, here are a few useful tips for parents:

1. Spare the rod, but don’t spoil the child
A recent study suggests that parents should discipline their children, but this does not necessarily entail spanking. Researchers in this study videotaped parents who spanked their children at home and found that parents were more often motivated by impulse or their emotions than using spanking as intentional discipline. In fact, most spanking incidents were in response to minor wrongs, and children typically misbehaved within 10 minutes of the spanking.

Moreover, a recently published meta-analysis of spanking studies reveals that the more children were spanked, the more likely they were to defy their parents. These children were also more likely to display anti-social behaviours, aggression, mental health problems, and cognitive difficulties. So, it could be better to focus on being consistent and on providing opportunities to reward good behaviours.

2. Positive endings good, sad endings bad
Every story usually has a lesson to learn. The moral of the story about The Hare and The Tortoise is that being persistent wins the race. Recent research has revealed that children learn best from stories which have a good ending. A recent study has found that children respond more positively to a moral story which promotes honesty than one which warns them about the consequences of dishonesty.

3. Avoid threats to help children tell the truth
A recent study in which children were told not to peek at a toy behind them but given the opportunity to peek (when the researcher went out of the room), finds that children are less likely to own up that they peeked if they were afraid of being punished. In contrast, children were more likely to tell the truth to please the adult (especially younger children) or to do the “right thing” (especially older children). So, it seems that threatening children with punishment is not the way to get them to come clean.

4. Use time-outs appropriately
2015 study reveals that if you want your toddler to stop doing something irritating immediately, the best action is to offer him or her a compromise. But this strategy, used often, will likely lead to more undesirable behaviours. Instead, the most effective way to deal with whining, negotiating and hitting involves reasoning with your toddler. Punishments like time-outs are only effective in curbing defiant toddlers, but they don’t work on every child. According to the researchers, this is because parents tend to use time-outs only after toddlers have misbehaved. In contrast, time-outs and other punishments are effective if parents tell their children ahead of time which behaviours result in a time-out or punishment, and apply them when the child misbehaves.

If only rearing children were as easy as knitting